North Little Rock-based Garver, the largest engineering, planning, architectural and environmental services company in Arkansas, has supported the Membrane Science, Engineering and Technology (MAST) center since 2014.
The center is a partnership between three universities — the University of Arkansas, New Jersey Institute of Technology and the University of Colorado Boulder — and is a National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center focused on the development of membrane science, engineering and technology. It works with companies to improve projects, and an industry advisory board oversees the center and provides requests for proposals for it.
Mike Watts, water practice leader for Garver, has been chairman of industry advisory board for the center since October. Watts joined Garver in 2013 and joined the board shortly afterward.
“We are helping the researchers, the faculty, the students, see the bigger picture,” Watts said.
At Garver, Watts is focused on water reuse and studies the reclamation of reusable effluent, and the projects on which he works closely align with the projects the center is working on, such as using membrane technology to filter water. One of the challenges the center and Watts have been working to address is reusing water from wastewater treatment plants. The idea is to produce potable water from effluent, which is usually treated at the plants, released into streams and flowed into another water source.
Membrane technology has been in the market for about two decades and is expected to play an important part in cleaning the effluent to provide for a water source, Watts said. He’s been involved in water reuse projects, from concept through design, and nearly all of the projects are for cities.
The majority of the projects that reuse water have been in Texas or Arizona, or in areas with water supply issues. Since 2010, membrane technology has been used to clean waste water in Texas cities and supplied up to 25% of the water supply with it. The city of El Paso is designing a plant that is capable of treating up to 10 million gallons per day of effluent to be used as potable water. And, centers like MAST help to improve these projects, Watts said.
Northwest Arkansas doesn’t face similar water supply issues as it has an abundance of fresh water, and the area doesn’t have the same demand for membrane technology, said Watts, adding that what’s exciting about the MAST center at the University of Arkansas is researchers here work to find solutions to problems in other areas.
The center is working to combine two existing water treatment processes using membrane technology to make it more cost effective and to improve water quality, Watts said. The existing approach is to focus on one treatment process or the other, but when combined, they would work better together.
The partnership between Garver and MAST has been valuable. As a for-profit company, Garver needs a return on investment, and a lot of the ROI is the talent the company works with at the UA, Watts said. He’s had the opportunity to work with students over the past three years and seen how the collaboration has impacted them and Garver.
The company has developed a good relationship with MAST, and the students who have worked with Garver have went on to become employees for the company, said Brock Hoskins, chief operating officer for Garver. The company has supported MAST because of its interest in membranes and water reuse and will continue to do so “as long as it makes sense.”
Garver recently renewed support for the center in its second three-year term and provides the center between $50,000 and $60,000 annually, Hoskins said.
Other supporters of the MAST center at the UA, include Arkansas Bait and Ornamental Fish Growers Association, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Southwestern Energy, Tyson Foods Inc., Asahi Kasei, Membrane Science and the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.
In 2010, the existing MAST center was established as a partnership between the New Jersey Institute of Technology and the University of Colorado Boulder. In March 2014, the University of Arkansas joined MAST. This year, Watts hopes Penn State will join the MAST partnership.